If you’re like me, you likely signed up for your $25 Loblaw gift card shortly after it was announced that the company was offering them in compensation for price-fixing bread products for more than 10 years. Good news for me, I received my gift card in the mail without a hitch—and happily bought my eggs, salmon and raisin bread with it this week.
The bad news is many people have not been so lucky and they have found themselves being asked to provide additional identification in order to receive their cards. That has raised alarms from privacy experts and class action lawyers who caution consumers should not hand over ID information such as driver’s licences because they may put themselves at risk for identity fraud.
Canada’s privacy commission revealed this week that it is investigating Loblaws for sending letters requesting that some customers mail them a copy of their driver’s license or other ID that’s in their name to verify their identity. “This is so outrageous,” says Ann Cavoukian, a privacy expert at the Privacy by Design Centre of Excellence at Ryerson University in Toronto. “It’s completely unacceptable for them to ask. You’re adding insult to injury when they should really be bending over backward to make this right.”
While customers want their $25 gift card, they don’t want to have to make themselves targets of identity theft to do so. Kevin Groh, vice-president of corporate affairs and communications for Loblaw Companies Ltd., explains the company’s position this way. “For a small percentage, we’ve asked for proof of name and address. No customer has to submit a driver’s license. Our first suggestion is that customers can send a utility bill—like a hydro or phone bill—which doesn’t contain sensitive information. ID will be collected through a secure channel, verified, then destroyed.”
“Our plan to distribute tens of millions of dollars is a natural target for fraudsters, and we want to make sure this money is actually landing in our customers’ hands,” says Groh, who explained that various triggers might lead Loblaws to ask for ID, such as large numbers of registrations from a single address, multiple requests under a single or similar name, or irregularities in a registration, “or something as simple as street and email that appear invalid.”
Couvakian, for one, isn’t buying it. “They are the fraudulent party in the price-fixing,” says Cavoukian. “They should be bending over backward to make amends to their customers. If they experience a bit of fraud, eat it.” Cavoukian also doesn’t trust Loblaw when they say that they’re going to destroy the proof of identity documents. “Info gets lost or stolen because of so many people inside handling the documents. They’re putting people at risk.” Instead, Cavoukian says Loblaws should issue an immediate apology and tell people who’ve received the letters that they are destroying any information they’ve received immediately.
So what should you do if you’ve received one of these letters? “Tell Loblaw you’ve given them enough info already and demand your $25 gift card,” says Cavoukian. “If you have a PC Optimum card, then [Loblaw] can ask for that to check ID. But beyond that, don’t offer any ID and go to the privacy commission right away if you receive such a letter.
Anthony Merchant of Merchant Law in Saskatchewan, whose firm is working on a class action suit against Loblaw, recommends that those who’ve applied for a gift card and get the letter, should only send in a utility bill—never a driver’s license “which is close to gold” for fraudsters. Or, if you’ve received one of these letters, Merchant suggests you let the privacy commissioner know immediately.
For Merchant, this whole situation seems, “bizarre,” and he goes on to explain. “I sense there a certain amount of ad hockery going on by Loblaws. They must have known they were going to get duped. And it’s not $25 cash after all. It’s a $25 gift card.”
Merchant says he also fears that what Loblaw may be doing is collecting data to hollow out the class action lawsuits against Loblaw in the months to come. “If you are approached by Loblaw and offered a side deal, contact a class action suit lawyer right away. They may even contact you in a phone survey in the guise of consumer survey to gauge the pulse of anger out there.
“They could approach you and say they’ll give you $150 or $200 to get out the class action suit. That’s the time they’re really taking advantage of you.”
If that happens, Merchant suggests you contact a class action suit lawyer involved in the Loblaws case and let them know about it. “The final goal of the lawsuit is to get a good settlement for everyone—not just a select few,” says Merchant.